People have been warming themselves by the Tudor fireplace of one of Maldon’s oldest houses for almost 500 years. Historian Stephen Nunn reports.

IT’S good to see that new life is at long last being breathed into 4 Silver Street.

Known to many as ‘Chandler’s’, the old place has stood empty for about three years and was beginning to look decidedly neglected and uncared for.

Thankfully, the new owners are changing all of that and are determined to undertake a sympathetic restoration of what is, after all, one of Maldon’s most historic buildings.

I personally have happy memories of walking past it on cold and snowy winter evenings, and seeing a roaring log fire in the extensively oak-beamed and antique furnished front sitting room.

For the last few winters, however, the old building has fallen cold, but hopefully it will soon be a familiar scene there once more.

Fires have been a feature in that hearth for many centuries, but trying to find out exactly how long can be a complex and problematic exercise that takes a lot of unpicking.

Like most old houses, it has been altered, extended and generally knocked about a bit by a long succession of owners.

Down the ages those residents have changed the place to suit their own particular needs, tastes and, in some cases, even their trades.

Prior to this latest sale, number 4 served as a much loved family home for a retired professional couple.

They had been there for a good 40 years, but before their tenure, in the mid 1960s, it was someone called RH Wells.

In 1939, believe it or not, it wasn’t just a private residence – it was a garage and a boarding house.

At that stage it was run by motor engineer Frederick Cackett and his wife, Lilian.

Earlier still, in 1922, Leonard E Dibben was in charge of the garage.

We have now journeyed back in time to a watershed year – 1919.

Alfred Hammond Cross and Ernest Remington were the named executors of the will of Elizabeth Cross.

Elizabeth had died five years earlier, but it fell to her son and son-in-law to dispose of her former home, which they did to a Joseph Chandler, of 11 Cromwell Hill.

So the name Chandler’s only dates back to that time.

Elizabeth Cross, however, had known it for more 30 years and, since the death of her husband, Alfred (in 1895) had also run it as a boarding house.

In Alfred’s day things were quite different.

He was a successful corn and seed merchant who had a shop at nearby 23 High Street (now Maldon Books).

Number 4 Silver Street was his private residence, which he occupied with Elizabeth, their children and a succession of domestic servants.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

  • Chandler's in the snow

It’s at this point that aspects of the usage of the building begin to make more sense.

The long, black weather-boarded, rear range has a distinct barn look about it and one can imagine Alfred making use of it for storing his sacks of corn and seed.

That unusual layout can be clearly seen on the Ordnance Survey of 1873.

However, that map pre-dates Alfred and Elizabeth’s time at number 4.

In the mid 19th Century we find, instead, a wine and spirit merchant using the building.

John Augustin Bygrave worked out of number 4 from around 1840, until his death in 1853.

He too had servants – 51-year-old Sarah Rivenhall, of Althorne, in 1851, and the curiously named Sarah Skull, 45, in 1841.

John probably also made use of the rear range, but number 4 had (and still has) something much more suited for storing wine.

Beneath the building is a veritable honeycomb of cellars and it looks like John had these extended.

A 32ft long passage, built at around his time, connects two vaulted chambers of the 18th Century to another, earlier one that contains Tudor bricks.

The wine bins, complete with painted reference numbers and faint chalk writing, are still visible to this day.

John was not the first vintner to use the underground world of number 4.

In the 18th Century, James Bridge, wine and liquor merchant, was based here – firstly as a tenant and then as its owner.

You would think that having now got back to around 1750 we would have discovered the origins of the house – but by no means.

That well used rear extension has actually been dated to the 17th Century and parts of the front section to the mid to late 16th Century.

Look carefully and you will see the evidence – an early-19th Century painting of a harvest scene over one of the fireplaces, an 18th Century splat-baluster winding stair, stacks re-built in the 17th Century and timber framing and a door jamb from the 16th.

But above all, on the first floor, a beautiful stone fireplace. Decorated with a frieze of roses, carved spandrels and blank shields, that even has traces of its original Tudor paintwork.

It was allegedly one of a pair, the other having apparently been removed to nearby Beeleigh Abbey when such things went unchecked.

Clacton and Frinton Gazette:

  • The stone fireplace has traces of its original Tudor paintwork

So who was it that could have afforded such embellishments?

Perhaps the Tudor bricks in the cellar can help us. At around the right date, the 1550s, we discover that one of the residents of Silver Street was Roger Josua and he was, you have guessed it, a vintner.

Was it Roger that had number 4 built?

Was he the first merchant to use at least part of today’s network of cellars? Did he warm himself by his new, colourful fireplace?

We will probably never know for sure, but I like to think it was him. And that has been the common thread from his time, through the ages of James Bridge, John Bygrave, the Cross family, the days of boarding house and garage, to my memories of a cold winter’s walk.

Let’s hope that the latest custodians will follow suit, will carry the torch and keep the flame alight at this special house of history.